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Brave schoolgirl Tilly shares stories of remarkable courage as Derby City Council careers scheme E4E launches its annual awards and asks for sponsors

Brave schoolgirl Tilly shares stories of remarkable courage as Derby City Council careers scheme E4E launches its annual awards and asks for sponsors

The dad of a Derby teenager shortlisted for an award after sharing her story of courage and resilience in continuing with her studies, despite being diagnosed with a brain tumour, has been sharing her remarkable tale of recovery over the past 12 months.

Matilda Hunt, a Year 9 pupil at Derby Cathedral School, was hailed an “inspiration to everyone at school” after what dad Jason Hunt described as “the toughest year of his life.”

She was shortlisted for an Education for Enterprise (E4E) award; the education scheme backed by Derby City Council, by teacher Babs Woodward and now, as nominations for the city-wide awards open, dad Jason says that the award gave the family a much-needed pick-me-up at an extremely difficult time.

Matilda – known as Tilly – was diagnosed with a rare brain tumour in February last year. She had been complaining of headaches a few months prior but, as the UK went into a third national lockdown and Tilly resumed homeschooling, the headaches became more frequent.

Tilly was taken to the opticians where an examination revealed that her optic nerves were inflamed. A subsequent MRI scan revealed a mass on her brain, which was later diagnosed as a tumour which, given the proximity to her brain, doctors were reluctant to operate on.

“Our whole world just collapsed,” said Jason, who lives in Derby with wife Ruth.

“We were encouraged to visit the eye department at the Royal Derby Hospital after the optician noticed that the optic nerves in both of Tilly’s eyes were inflamed. It was at the hospital that I was told by the consultant that they had found a mass on Tilly’s brain, but they couldn’t say whether it was cancerous or not.

“Because of COVID, only one parent was allowed to visit but we were told to get Ruth to the hospital too and at this point, I had to tell Tilly that the doctors had found something on her brain.

“She asked if it was cancer and I told her that it probably was. Tilly cried for a bit but throughout the whole experience, she has been a tower of strength and that is why she was nominated for the E4E award.”

The family then went to the Queen’s Medical Centre in Nottingham, where Tilly was put onto a cancer ward. After relieving some of the pressure on Tilly’s brain and then subsequent rounds of treatment, the Hunt family were told that the tumour had shrunk from three centimetres to just one.

Tilly will always have the tumour – and will be on medication for the rest of her life – but she is now in remission. It could, though, be years before she is finally given the all-clear.

“At the E4E awards in December, Tilly was over the worst of it; but she was still very poorly,” said Jason.

“We were preparing for her to go into hospital on Christmas Eve to have her Hickman Line removed. This is a tube that has two ports which are connected directly to the main artery in her neck. It is used to administer her chemotherapy and is used to take blood tests.

“She was, though, much better and the outlook was a lot brighter. We could see her getting stronger and she had returned to school.”

Fast forward 10 months and Tilly’s hair, blighted by the treatment, is starting to grow back. She’s still having regular check-ups at the hospital but the family were able to enjoy a trip to Disneyland in the summer and, thanks to Derby County Community Trust’s Rams Family Fund, Tilly has been able to watch her beloved Rams at Pride Park Stadium.

“Tilly has just started back at Derby Cathedral School in Year 9,” added Jason, who has taken part in fundraising challenges for the Children’s Brain Tumour Charity, who are based at Nottingham University, Young Lives v Cancer and The Brain Tumour Charity.

“She is still building up her strength, but her hair is coming back all wavy; she recently took part in PE for the first time and is using her wheelchair less and less.

“We’re all big Derby County supporters and have had a lot of help and support from the Derby County Community Trust. Tilly was honoured to be asked to start the Derby 10k earlier this year and she has met captain Curtis Davies on several occasions.

“Curtis has a daughter the same age as Tilly, so I think that her story resonates with him. We met him recently when we accepted an award for the Rams Family Fund, which gifts matchday tickets to supporters, on behalf of the Community Trust. That was a real highlight for Tilly.

“It has been a tough couple of years for us as a family. Every time that Tilly complains of a headache, your mind starts to race. That worry will never leave us.

“We have had to have counselling as a family to help us to get through it but the generosity and support we have received from people, many whom are complete strangers, has been overwhelming.

“The aim is to try and restore some kind of normality in our lives, whatever that may be. It will be a long process but that’s just how it is.”

Also commended for their resilience at last year’s E4E award were Da Vinci Academy pupil Jack Hart, who was praised for being “a remarkable young man” after continuing his GCSE studies despite the death of his mum – a nurse – to COVID, and teenager Tejal Paliya.

Tejal almost died after contracting a bacterial infection that left her fighting for her life. Her family were warned that she may not survive but the gutsy former Littleover Community School pupil achieved four A*s after sitting the exams from her bed at the Royal Derby Hospital.

Later this month Tejal – who has become one of the youngest volunteers with E4E; a Derby City Council-backed careers initiative that provides mock interviews, mentoring and CV Workshops for secondary school pupils in Derby - is heading to Cambridge University to study Chemical Engineering.

E4E manager Arshad Iqbal said:

“We were absolutely blown away by the stories of resilience, courage and bravery. The Raising Aspiration Awards, which will once again take place at the University of Derby, celebrate the success of city students, give recognition for their achievements and highlight the fantastic work done by their schools.

“The awards are also an opportunity to thank the volunteers and employers – including Toyota, Rolls-Royce and Derby City Council – who go above and beyond the support young people in achieving their true potential.”

The Bemrose School were named School of the Year for their continued support of career-led learning while Da Vinci Academy pupil Jess Green was presented with the Young Achiever Award.

There was also recognition for Claire Hollingshurst, Quality System Manager at Derbyshire-based Lubrizol and Derby City Council pair John Augustin and Bronia Smith-Wilson for their volunteering efforts.

Arshad added:

“This year’s awards promise to be even better than the last ones. In 2022, we have celebrated helping almost 50,000 young people and increasing the number of volunteers from various sectors to 600-plus.

“There is a lot to be proud of.”

Anyone interested in sponsoring the 2022 E4E Derby City Raising Aspirations Awards – which will be attended by student award finalists, parents, school leaders and local businesses – should email Arshad.Iqbal@derby.gov.uk


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